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Educational perspective

farmer roundtable
The future of agriculture is bright and full of jobs.

In my travel to different seminars and events, I am often asked about education. Recently in Norfolk, Nebraska I had the opportunity to eat lunch with a number of FFA students. At some points, it seemed that questions about education were coming from all directions. Justifiably so, the students were excited about their future in education and agriculture. 

According to a study done by Purdue University, the field of agriculture will have nearly 60,000 new jobs per year annually and about half will be in agribusiness economics and financial analysis. Nearly 30 percent of these new jobs will be in the science and technology, and engineering areas, which includes plant and animal sciences. The fields of education, communication, government service, extension and rural development will encompass almost 10 percent of this new employment. 

Looking at farm businesses and production, agriculture will attract more young producers in the coming years as well. One in seven new jobs will be in actual production or farm business operation. 

Amidst these attentive, energetic young students, I pointed out that not every individual needs to go to college or earn a University degree. Vocational and technical schools provide useful tools and a path of lifelong learning will likely produce various certifications and experiences, possibly across a wide range of fields, that can keep the flame for learning and life alight.

In pursuit of education, it is important to seek programs that offer experiential learning. Even with a college degree, hands-on learning is still the most effective teacher. These programs may include internships, abroad study with partner schools, or positions as a research assistant. Experience is one way students can differentiate themselves from others the in the field of agriculture and beyond. 

Even if one has decided on agriculture as his or her area of focus, the global nature of the industry requires well-rounded studies.  Courses in economics, communication and leadership can provide a powerful set of tools with which to approach your career regardless of the focus.   In addition, pay attention to who teaches your courses.  A passionate and experienced professor can make a big difference in the value of a class. 

In my continuing pursuit of education, I have taught over 10,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate levels at Virginia Tech and Cornell University. In short, here is my advice:

  1. Stay away from memorization courses. In most cases, life is not as clear as black and white. Many life answers are found in the grey area in between which requires critical thinking.    
  2. Select the educator, not the course. Yes, sometimes this means choosing the more difficult instructor.
  3. Success is about time management. Don’t become too distracted with all the useless chatter on social media or with the latest technology. Set goals and stay focused.
  4. Remember that graduation simply means the start of your next chapter of learning because a lifelong process never ends!
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